At the start of the Civil War, secessionist officials in then Northwestern Virginia recruited approximately 800 recruits to the Confederate cause. IN response to the movement of superior forces under George B. McClellan, these raw and poorly trained recruits retreated from the vital rail junction of Grafton to Philippi on the strategic Fairmont Beverly Pike.
The small contingent of Confederate forces camped on the commons ground of Philippi near the historic covered bridge. On the rainy night of June 2 and predawn of June 3, they failed to post pickets.
Union forces of 1,400 had been divided into two elements and attacked the surprised, poorly trained Confederate forces. After a short artillery barrage, the Confederate forces broke and ran, some soldiers still in their night clothes. Four Union and twenty-six Confederate soldiers were dead; bemused journalists labeled the fight the "Races at Philippi".